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This Dark Heart

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Violence hums in the air. It stings his skin, scours his nostrils and slides down his throat to choke his lungs. Acrid and bitter, it is an unseen poison coursing through his veins.

Will Graham stands apart from his colleagues, trying to control his breathing, ignoring the pain of his prickling flesh and steadying his heartbeat so that he can do the worst thing; imagine himself as the killer. Let himself become the killer.

Omegas are typically sensitive, but Will’s ability goes beyond that. It is a gift, or so he’s been told. As he fights to keep the bile from rising in his throat, he realises that, once again, his biology is being used against him. Only this time, he’s doing it to himself.

Resonances hang in the room, syrupy thick, sweet as rotten fruit. Will closes his eyes, his ears pricking to the crackle of static as he lowers his defences and allows himself to feel the killer. To become him. He sinks lower into a warm river, riding the current and then…

He’s there. Darkness surges inside him, overwhelms him. He doesn’t see red, but whispers of white that spark from the shadows.

Mrs Marlow is alive, so futilely and pathetically alive, walking back and forth to the kitchen, tidying up after dinner. Her face is bright with laughter. So beautiful… So much potential

He waits in the front yard, coiled like an adder in the grass. Looks down at his right hand, knuckles white and shaking around the handle of the gun. He has to do this. Has to. The need is calling him, a siren song too strong to resist.

And then it’s time. Something clicks in his brain and he explodes into action. Kicks open the front door, shattering the lock and sending a shrill cry into the air as the alarm begins to wail. Mrs Marlow screams but she can wait.

A big man comes running downstairs; her husband, a useless sack of rotting meat encased in wrinkled flesh and coarse black hair.

Will raises the gun, his lips twisting with disgust as he fires.

‘I shoot Mr Marlow twice…’

He hears his own voice cutting through the scene and it jolts him apart from the memory. Will is a shadow of himself, lingering in the edges of his own body as his mind continues to act out the murder. He describes it to himself in calm detail, detached and clinical, looking for evidence that can point the FBI in the direction of the killer.

When he reaches the intercom, he pauses.

There.

With monumental strength, Will wrenches himself away from the scene. He is sweating and shivering, as cold as the time he fell through the ice as a child. Turns to the CSI officer and speaks in a flat, monotonous voice. A dead voice.

‘I need the incident report for the home security company,’ he says. Only he’s not really there… Not really… anywhere… Not yet.

The current pulls him at him, swirling around his legs and whispering silky caresses across his face.

The line was tapped. An officer confirms it. Will dips back into the stream, his eyes darkening as his pupils expand, sucking in all the light from the room until there is nothing but shadow left.

He knows what happened next… The darkness inside him purrs, a rumble in his chest as claws tickle the fine hairs at the back of his neck. They scrape through his hair, across his scalp and he fights down a shiver. Of what? Fear? Desire?

Staring down at his victim, Will feels his lips curve into the barest ghost of a smile. He wants to let go. He wants to give in to the whispers, to the urges…

‘And this is when it gets truly horrifying for Mrs Marlow,’ he whispers. He can feel the pull of the undercurrent threatening to dismantle him, eager to drag his mind away into an endless maelstrom of blood and pain…

And then he blinks and it’s six weeks later. It’s a memory. Nothing more than a topic on a PowerPoint slide and his voice is echoing throughout the silent lecture theatre; his students enthralled by the brutal accuracy with which he describes the violence.

Will nods to himself. Good. They should be shocked. Murders are supposed to be shocking, even to the FBI.

‘Everyone has thought about killing,’ he says, surprised that his voice is so steady. No one will ever know. ‘Be at your own hand, or the hand of God. Now, think about killing Mrs Marlow.’

He sees the unease ripple through the room, fear sighing from student to student. Will smiles again and the dark thing inside him flickers, scenting the air. Not yet…

‘Tell me your design,’ he says, ending the class as the timer on his phone flashes a warning. His hour is up. ‘Tell me who you are.’

The silence hangs for a moment, fragile as spun glass, and then shatters as a dozen chairs scrape across cheap tiles and students get to their feet. The energy snaps and there’s a general sense of relief. A breathy laugh that catches and turns into light-hearted chatter as the students pack their books away.

Will releases a breath he doesn’t know he’s been holding and looks down at his shaking hands. Is that from the memory of that night, or from the pills he’s taking?

Hard to tell. Knowing him, probably a bit of both.

An unpleasantly familiar scent flows over to him and Will stiffens. An Alpha, and a strong one, too, from the heavy, musky aroma barely concealed by the sort of aftershave bought at a local department store.

Will closes his laptop and dips his hand into his jacket pocket for the briefest of seconds, closing around the bottle of Beta spray as though its very presence can protect him from being discovered. As an Omega, he has no legal right to a job, let alone one within law enforcement. As an unbonded Omega, his situation is even more… tenuous.

He refuses the use the word vulnerable. Vulnerable implies a degree of weakness, and Will refuses to see himself as weak. Weak, scared, dependant, needy… He associates himself with none of the typical words used to describe Omegas.

He glances over, dodging the Alpha’s eyes with his own, knowing that the FBI agent will immediately spot the gold rim around his irises. The unmistakeable mark of an Omega. As if his slim frame, soft lips and large doe-eyes weren’t enough of a give-away. He hates how fragile he appears. Does everything he can to stop it being true.

‘Will Graham,’ the Alpha calls, big booming voice and broad shoulders making him feel even bigger than he is. He radiates power and authority, creating a circle of space around him wherever he goes. The students, most of them Betas of various rankings, scurry around him whilst surreptitiously glancing at him, some with curiosity, others with outright awe and wonder on their young faces. Will wants to smack them for being so pathetic. Wants to smack himself for wanting to fall to his knees in the presence of such a strong Alpha.

‘Special Agent Jack Crawford,’ the Alpha continues, reaching over the podium to shake with him. ‘I head up the Behavioural Science Unit.’

Will flinches and then tries to hide it by putting his laptop into the bag, giving it a tug as though it’s giving him trouble. He hesitates but Jack persist and he ends up glancing away before nervously shaking. Oh God… What if Jack can tell what he is by the feel of him? What if he can smell the Beta spray and recognises it for what it is…? It’s supposed to be good; he paid enough money for it to know that it’s good, and he knows it works on lower level Alphas, but he’s not tried it around one as strong as Jack Crawford… not this close before, anyway.

Will pulls his hand back as soon as he’s able, hating the way his skin tingles and his cheeks threaten to flush at the feel of the Alpha’s hot, firm fingers on his. He isn’t attracted to him – if for no other reason than because Jack isn’t attracted to him – it’s just a bio-chemical response to the pheromones leaking out of the Alpha’s pores. But still, it’s unnerving and could blow his whole cover if he’s not careful.

‘We’ve met,’ Will mutters, continuing to pack up so that he can escape as soon as possible.

‘Yes,’ Jack agrees, smiling down his nose at him, despite the fact that Will is stood on the raised platform and therefore standing slightly taller than Jack right now. Fucking Alphas. ‘We had a disagreement,’ Jack continues. ‘When we opened up the museum.’

Will feels a flare of guilt, followed by a surge of anger at his own stupid instincts. He has nothing to feel guilty for; he’s perfectly entitled to disagree with the concept, even if it’s an Alpha’s design. It’s nothing more than social brainwashing to make Omegas pliant and submissive to Alphas…

‘I disagreed with what you named it,’ Will says, determined not to back down or seem uncertain. He still can’t bring himself to actually look at Jack, though…

Jack, however, doesn’t seem to mind Will’s stand-offish behaviour. Just nods, tucks his hands into the pockets of his long black overcoat and paces back and forth before him.

‘The, er, Evil Minds Research Museum,’ he says.

Will fights the urge to bare his throat. Instead, he roughly buckles up his satchel, plants his feet apart and straightens himself all the way up, locking gazes with the Alpha.

Please don’t let the gold show, please let it be dark enough…

‘It’s a little ‘hammy’, Jack,’ he says. He wants to say more but his throat closes up and he falters. Sweat breaks out and he turns away, nervous and hating how much his body is betraying him again. He can feel the tingle of anticipation crawl up his spine, settling as warmth in the back of his neck, right where his crest would be if he were bonded.

Jack narrows his eyes, sensing his submission, and allows a satisfied smile to curve his lips. However, to Will’s immense relief, he doesn’t make a big deal out of it. Just nods and moves the conversation swiftly on, motioning instead to the projector screen behind Will, where the dead body of Mrs Marlow is still displayed in gruesome HD.

‘I see you’ve hitched your horse to a teaching post,’ he says. And then he does something that sets the alarm bells off in Will’s mind. He leans over and tries to catch Will’s eye again. Speaks softly, as though wary of frightening him… ‘I also understand that it’s difficult for you to be… social.’

Will’s heart begins to beat very fast. He flicks his eyes down again, desperate to escape, aware that he can’t outrun the Alpha, that the corridors will be choked with people and that he is, in essence, trapped in here, in this room, with him… The thought makes his chest almost too tight to breathe.

The perception that he is socially anxious started life as a malicious rumour from a spurned colleague, but one that Will actively fostered into its own explanation for his idiosyncrasies. The avoidance of eye contact, the dislike of being touched… All things that an anxious Beta would do. The perfect cover… Apart from fucking Alpha sense of smell.

He can tell that Jack expects an answer, is waiting for him…

Does he know? Does he know?

It’s all that Will can think about, but he gives a half-hearted shrug before replying,

‘I’m just talking at them; I’m not listening to them… It’s… it’s not social.’

He can feel himself begin to shake now, and the bottle of Beta pheromone spray is burning a hole in his pocket. God, how he wants to escape into the men’s bathroom and douse himself until his skin is on fire with it.

He tries to take a breath, tries to look anywhere but at Jack… But the Alpha is staring at him so intently, so tenderly… so… what, Jack? What is that look on your face? Why are your eyes soft like that?

‘I see,’ Jack says softly. ‘… May I?’ And then he reaches out, still with that same gentle look on his face, a soft, sad look of understanding and… what, sympathy? His warm, soft fingers brush across Will’s cheekbone, cupping the side of his face in a shockingly intimate gesture that sets every nerve in Will’s body on fire.

No, no, no, no!

Because, in that moment, when Will looks at him and their eyes meet, he knows that his eyes are ringed with gold and that all the Beta spray in the world can’t mask the wave of Omega pheromones that have just poured out of him.

And Jack is responding the way any Alpha should; he is protective, nurturing and worried. He straightens Will’s glasses and gives him a little smile before releasing his cheek.

It’s over. Jack Crawford knows that Will Graham is an Omega.

But Jack just nods, as if confirming suspicions to himself, and tilts his head in consideration.

‘You’re not bonded, are you?’ he asked quietly. ‘And you’re taking heat suppressants.’

Will doesn’t trust himself to speak so he just nods dumbly. Realises that maybe he’s giving mixed signals because he should have shaken his head for the first question but it’s too late now.

Jack doesn’t seem to notice. It’s as though he wasn’t expecting much of an answer, anyway. Just nods to himself again and sighs.

‘And you can empathise with narcissists and sociopaths?’ he asks. Will frowns at this; of all the questions, he wasn’t expecting this one.

‘I can empathise with anybody,’ he snaps, surprised that his voice is clear and strong. He was expecting more of a hoarse croak, given how shaken he feels. He returns to fumbling with his bag, desperate to be out of here, away from Jack and his prying eyes, his pitying eyes, and his overbearing presence. It’s too much right now; Will feels as though he’s about to cave in on himself. Become… other…

He jerks his tie from around the collar of his plaid shirt and stuffs it in with his laptop and books. ‘It’s less to do with a biology disorder and more to do with having an active imagination,’ he says.

Jack’s eyebrows climb at hearing Will describe being an Omega as a biology disorder, but doesn’t say anything. Just tries a different tactic. Alphas are nothing if not persistent.

‘Well, then… Can I… borrow your imagination?’ he asks, lowering his head and looking Will straight in the eyes again. Will hesitates, gold-rimmed eyes flicking up and down, to and from the Alpha’s intense gaze.

He can feel his shadow-self slither up through his ribcage, coiling around his chest, quivering in anticipation at the prospect of being inside the mind of more murderers.

He should say no. Will knows his gift is too unstable, too unpredictable… He could end up lost in whoever he has to become…

He sets his jaw and steels himself to meet Jack’s eye again.

‘Yes.’

***

Walking across campus from the lecture halls to the building housing the Behavioral Science Unit, Jack fills Will in on the details of the case.

‘Eight girls abducted from eight different Minnesota campuses, all in the last eight months.’

‘I thought there were seven?’ Will checks, frowning at the Alpha beside him. Jack sighs.

‘There were.’

Will’s heart sinks, and a shiver runs down his spine.

‘When did you tag the eighth?’ he asks, and Jack quirks an eyebrow.

‘About three minutes before I walked into your lecture theatre.’

‘You’re calling them abductions because you don’t have any bodies,’ Will guesses, hurrying to keep up with Jack’s longer strides.

‘No bodies, no parts of bodies, nothing that comes out of bodies. Nothing,’ Jack growls.

‘Then those girls weren’t taken from where you think they were taken,’ Will says, ducking after him as Jack turns a corner and heads inside.

‘Then where were they taken from?’ Jack demands, but Will just shrugs.

‘I don’t know. Someplace else.’

‘All of them abducted on a Friday so they wouldn’t have to be reported missing until Monday,’ Jack continues, slowing as they near his office. ‘Now, however he’s covering his tracks, he needs a weekend to do it.’ He stops outside his door and gestures for Will to go in ahead of him.

Will pauses at this; he can’t help but glance at the Alpha because they normally insist on leading the way, especially with an Omega. From the set of Jack’s jaw, Will can tell he’s waiting on purpose, and that it’s difficult for him, so he ducks his head in a quick show of submission and goes in without comment.

The room is sparsely furnished; functional without being emotional. The far wall is dominated with an evidence board; a large map of the states, framed by photographs of the missing girls with string tying them to where they disappeared, and photographs of the scenes.

Jack grimaces and hands Will a thin paper file. The Omega opens it, his stomach churning as he stares down into the pretty, smiling face of an inevitably dead girl.

‘Number eight?’ he checks, and Jack nods.

‘Elise Nichols,’ he replies. ‘St Cloud State on the Mississippi. Disappeared on Friday; she was supposed to house-sit for her parents over the weekend, feed the cat… She never made it home.’

Will removes his glasses; he doesn’t need them as much when he’s not using the Iris Inhibitor drops to darken the gold in his eyes, and, because he doesn’t find anyone else particularly appealing as a potential mate, he hasn’t had to use the drops since Alana Bloom stopped visiting him at lunchtimes.

‘One through seven are dead, don’t you think?’ he mutters. ‘He’s not keeping them around; he got himself a new one.’

Jack nods, his mouth set in a grim line.

‘So we focus on Elise Nichols.’

Will looks up. Stares at the board, at the seven dead girls smiling at him from their pictures. His shadow croons to him; such potential…

He swallows the bitter taste in his throat.

‘They’ve very, um… Mall of America,’ he says, taking a step closer and pinning Elise underneath number seven. ‘That’s a lot of wind-chafed skin.’

‘Same hair color, same eye color; roughly the same age, same height, same weight… So, what is it about all these girls?’

Will’s darkness slithers up his spine, wraps around his neck and licks his ear. He shakes his head.

‘It’s not about all these girls,’ he says softly, feeling the warm current pushing against his legs. ‘It’s about one of them. He’s like Willy Wonka; every girl he takes is a candy bar; hidden in amongst all those candy bars is the one true intended victim, which, if we follow through on our metaphor-’ He shrugs at Jack. ‘- is your golden ticket.’

Jack frowns at the board.

‘So, is he warming up for his golden ticket or just reliving whatever it is he did to her?’ he asks.

‘The golden ticket wouldn’t be the first taken, and she wouldn’t be the last,’ Will says, earning himself a puzzled look from the Alpha. He explains, ‘He would, er, hide how special she was.’ His shadow purrs and Will feels heat crackle up his back. He turns away, ready to go back to class. ‘I mean, I would; wouldn’t you?’

Jack looks at the board again.

‘I want you to get closer to this.’

‘No; you have Heimlich at Harvard and Bloom at Georgetown,’ Will says, grabbing his bag from the couch and hurrying towards the door. He knew, he knew this would happen. Fucking Alphas. ‘They do the same thing I do.’

‘That’s not exactly true, is it?’ Jack points out, turning to face him and squaring his shoulders in a show of dominance. ‘You have a very specific way of thinking about things.’

Will snorts a bitter laugh.

‘Huh… Has there been a lot of, er, discussion about the specific way I think?’

‘You make jumps you can’t explain,’ Jack says softly. Reverently. ‘Even more so than other Omegas.’

‘No, no,’ Will snaps, shaking his head, hating the way his voice is starting to shake. ‘The evidence explains.’

‘Then help me find some evidence,’ Jack says, and Will grits his teeth. He looks at the door; it’s barely three feet away but it might as well be on the moon.

‘That may require me to be sociable,’ he warns, but the Alpha merely looks at him, and waits for the inevitable. For Will’s shoulders to slump and his head to come down, baring the side of his throat in surrender.

Jack’s won. Again.

***

The Nichols live in Duluth, Minnesota. A big, suburban house set back from the street behind a manicured front yard. Both parents are Betas, their faces lined with worry as they wait for Jack to say something.

Will keeps his back to them; their energy is distracting. It scratches at his back, flicking his ears and making them ring… Instead, he stares at the photographs on the dresser, listening to the memories of the house… Something dark, something beautiful… It’s faint but it’s there…

‘She could’ve gone off by herself,’ Mr Nichols mumbles. A desperate attempt to bely the truth that they know but can’t accept. ‘She… she was a very interior young woman…’ His wife nods, spilling tears down her cheeks. Jack nods back, but he doesn’t say anything. There’s nothing he can say.

Mr Nichols tries again.

‘She… she didn’t like living in her dorm… I can see how the pressure of school might have gotten to her…’ He looks up, begging the Alpha with his eyes. ‘She likes trains… Maybe she just got on a train and –’

‘She looks like the other girls,’ Mrs Nichols interrupts, her voice wobbling. Jack nods.

‘Yes; she fits the profile.’

‘Could Elise still be alive?’ Mr Nichols asks, his hands shaking around his untouched coffee mug. Mrs Nichols looks at Jack, waiting, her faint glimmer of hope fading from red-rimmed eyes when he sighs and says,

‘We simply have no way of knowing.’

Staring with unseeing eyes at a photo of Elise, Will feels warmth flare in his belly and he frowns.

‘How’s the cat?

Mrs Nichols frowns, her mouth parted in confusion as she looks from Jack to the strange, detached young man asking about the family pet when her daughter’s life is at risk.

‘What?’

‘How’s your cat?’ Will repeats, turning and approaching Jack, who can barely suppress a grimace at how unsociable the Omega is being.

Will hunches his shoulders, avoiding eye contact by looking at the table, at the walls, anywhere but at them, his hands shoved deep into his trouser pockets with one fist clenched tight around his can of Beta spray.

‘Elise was supposed to feed it; was the cat weird when you came home?’ he persists. ‘It must’ve been hungry; it didn’t eat all weekend.’

Mr and Mrs Nichols share a look, raising their eyebrows at each other, and then Mr Nichols shrugs.

‘I didn’t notice,’ he says. Will nods. He knows; he knows… He needs Jack, needs to tell him, but he can’t, he can’t in front of them… His throat catches around a sound and he hugs his elbows, dipping his head towards the Alpha for help.

Jack nods to the Nichols.

‘Could you give us a moment, please?’ he says quietly, and leads Will into the back room, rubbing at the sweat on his forehead, wondering if this was such a good idea…

Will swallows the lump in his throat.

‘He took her from here,’ he whispers. Jack sighs, and Will knows he needs to explain, so he adds, ‘She… she got on a train, she came home, she fed the cat… Then he took her.’

And Jack nods, his face dark because he trusts Will. He presses a button on his cell phone and lifts it to his ear, his voice ringing out when he speaks.

‘The Nichols’s house is a crime scene. I need ERT immediately. I want Zeller, Katz and Jimmy Price… Yes, and a photographer.’

Elise’s parents go pale and Mrs Nichols holds her hands up to her mouth; half prayer, half denial.

‘Why is it now a crime scene?’ Mr Nichols demands. Jack doesn’t respond immediately, and Will is the one to look over, his shadow dancing in his eyes.

‘Can I see your daughter’s room?’ he asks. Mrs Nichols shrugs, helpless, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue. Mr Nichols swallows.

‘Police were up there this morning…’

Will pulls on a pair of blue latex gloves and leads the way upstairs, following the sickly sweet resonances. They’re getting stronger… thicker…

The cat paws at the underside of the door, trying to get into Elise’s room. Will tilts his head and reaches for the handle, but Mr Nichols gets there first – he can’t smell that Will is Omega, he’s just protecting his daughter, even though she’s not there.

‘No; I’ll get that.’

Will pulls up short, his darkness snarling at the Beta in his way.

‘Mr Nichols, please put your hands in your pockets and avoid touching anything,’ he says, trying hard not to snap. Mr Nichols frowns, but he doesn’t look angry, just lost.

‘But… we’ve been in and out of here all day,’ he says. Will shrugs and gestures to the pet.

‘You can… hold the cat, if it’s easier,’ he suggests, and the Beta does, lifting the feline into his arms and hugging it close.

Will pushes the door away from him and his shadow roars to life. Yes.

She’s there. Elise; perfect, sweet, dead Elise, lying in bed as though sleeping. But too perfect for sleep; perfectly still, perfectly cold…

Mr Nichols jumps forwards at the sight of his daughter’s body.

Elise!

Will grabs him, fighting to hold him back, to keep him from contaminating the scene.

‘I need you to leave the room,’ he growls, clenching his jaw to keep from sinking his teeth into the Beta’s throat.

Mine; my beautiful girl… Stay away from her…

The shadow is too strong; too heavy. A thick, musky scent fills the room. It’s everywhere. It’s in him… Will can feel himself start to shake and heat shivers up his spine, tickling across the back of his neck.

An Alpha did this. The killer is an Alpha

He calls for Jack, shoving at Mr Nichols to get the Beta out of the room. The cat jumps down, meowing for Elise to wake up, and Will shouts for help again. Staggers when Jack pulls Mr Nichols off him, his hands shaking and mind whirring as he turns back to the bed.

Mine… My beautiful girl… My girl…

‘Alpha,’ he whispers, his throat tightening around a whine of – what? Longing? He can’t… He’s not…

He can’t think clearly with all this noise. He pulls himself back into the corner of the room and waits for Jack to sort out the situation.

Forty minutes later, Jack touches his upper arm to get his attention and Will blinks, coming back to himself and the room with the poor dead girl, the room with the heavy, tangy musk of a rutting Alpha…

‘Take your time,’ Jack says, dipping his head to speak softly into Will’s ear. Soothing him. Protecting him. ‘When you’re ready to talk, you talk. If you don’t feel like it, you don’t talk. We’ll be downstairs.’ Jack shields him from the doorway, keeping him out of view. Will feels very small next to him, just because Jack is all hulking shoulders and furrowed brow; he’s designed to look threatening, to keep everyone else at bay.

‘You let me know when you’re ready for us to come in,’ Jack continues, and he slips away before Will has to nod.

My girl…

The memories sing to him, just out of hearing, just out of reach… Will approaches the window, sucking up the smell of cool night air… Change of the season; autumn sliding away into winter… He looks out beyond the net curtain, past the flashing lights to Mrs Nichols in the back of an ambulance, wrapped in blankets but still shivering, unable to breathe despite the oxygen mask on her face.

I waited on the balcony…

Will dips into the current. It rises, warming him… He’s there; Friday night… He watches Elise sleep… She’s so beautiful… So precious… His darkness pulses in time to his heartbeat, filling him, oozing through his pores to seep into the very air around him…

I have to do this…

The tightness explodes in his chest and he lunges at her, a knee to the gut, his hands around her throat. Elise wakes but she can’t even scream, can’t cry or fight or do anything but stare up at him with wide, blue, terrified eyes.

I squeeze the life from you…

She’s dying. Slipping away. It’s nearly time… So close… Will’s shadow licks at something deep inside and then –

‘You’re Will Graham.’

A female voice shatters the reconstruction. Tears apart the memory. Will comes back to himself with a shuddering breath, drenched in icy sweat. He’s been ripped from the current and he has no idea where he is… who he is…

He blinks rapidly, clearing the black fog from his eyes until he can see her. He knows her; Beverly Katz. Slim, Asian, with glossy black hair and a fragrant musk… She’s an Alpha. She’s also the one who spoke to him. The one that, right now, his shadow is snarling at.

‘You’re not supposed to be in here,’ he gasps, his voice quivering with the force of his shaking.

Beverly ignores him, her face lit up with fascination as she considers him; Will Graham in the flesh.

You wrote the standard monograph on time of death by insect activity,’ she says. She grins and nods, impressed.

Will can only stare; he can see where he would bite, where he would tear out her throat or wrap his hands around it and choke the life from her…

He’s being swept away. He needs to find his feet, get his bearings again. Ground himself, but Beverly is talking again and he can’t concentrate on anything but her silky voice.

‘Found antler velvet in two of the wounds,’ she says. She looks down at his belt, clocks his ID badge and frowns. ‘You not real FBI?’

‘I’m a, er, Special Investigator,’ Will replies. He tries to swallow, his voice hoarse. Please don’t see the gold… Please don’t let it show…

Beverly raises her eyebrows at him.

Never been an FBI agent?’

Will looks away, down, away again, his eyes darting from side to side, looking for an escape. Beverly’s scent is subtle; she’s mated, but mingled with the smell of rutting Alpha from the bedroom… His skin is crawling.

‘Um, s-strict screening procedures,’ he mutters, and Beverly nods.

‘Detects instability.’ She grins at him. ‘You unstable?’

I…

Will swallows. Releases a breath when he senses Jack come up behind him; the taller Alpha is focused on Beverly, coming to stand between her and Will so that he can protect the Omega.

‘You know you’re not supposed to be in here,’ he says, but Beverly ignores the rebuke.

‘I found antler velvet in two of the wounds, like she was gored,’ she replies. ‘I was looking for velvet in the other wounds but I was interrupted.’ She watches as Will turns away, her dark eyes sparkling with interest.

Two Betas enter the room – Brian Zeller and Jimmy Price; they work with and for Beverly. Will turns his back on them and returns to the window, distancing himself from their scents, from the noise they push into the room around him… They disturb the current, the memories… everything swirls and catches, muddying the water until he can’t tell what he’s supposed to feel anymore…

‘Hold on, excuse me,’ Zeller says, looking down at Elise’s body. ‘Deer and elk pin their prey, okay; they put all their weight into their antlers and suffocate a victim. That’s how they’d kill like a fox or a coyote.’

‘Elise Nichols was strangled, suffocated, her ribs are broken…’ Jack huffs in confusion.

Will looks over his shoulder at them.

‘Antler velvet is rich in nutrients,’ he says. ‘It actually promotes healing; he may have put it there on purpose.’

‘You think he was trying to heal her?’ Jack doesn’t bother keeping the disbelief from his voice.

Will sighs, blinks, frowns against the headache squeezing his temples. Alpha…

‘He wanted to undo as much as he could,’ he sighs. ‘Given that he’d already killed her.’

‘He put her back where he found her,’ Jack says, shaking his head in confusion. Will shakes his head. He can feel it; the current tugs at him again… He knows

‘Whatever he did to the others, he couldn’t do it to her.’

They both stare at the dead girl; she could be sleeping. So beautiful…

‘Is this his golden ticket?’ Jack asks, and Will looks at the floor, at the bed; considers his answer before he speaks.

‘No… no, this is an apology,’ he murmurs. He glances up and sees everyone staring at him, Jack frustrated, Beverly still impressed, Price with a puzzled frown and Zeller with his hands on his hips, disbelief etched into face.

The breeze floats the killer’s musk across his face and Will swallows down an itch in his throat; is that a whine his body wants to make?

Alpha…

He blinks, his eyes stinging from the headache slicing across the top of his skull. He needs a hot shower and a handful of heat suppressants, which he left in his car at the airport. For now, painkillers will have to do.

‘Does anyone have any aspirin?’

***

Driving back through the dark roads of Wolf Trap, Virginia, Will steadfastly ignores the churning heat in his stomach. His headache has retreated to the back of his head, right above the nape of his neck, and he’s decided that he just has acid reflux from taking heat suppressants on an empty stomach. It’s got nothing to do with the musky, smoky smell of the Alpha who killed Elise Nichols… Nothing to do with the aching, empty feeling in his gut, deep in his core…

He brakes as an animal comes into view of his headlights. A brown collie-cross by the look of it, running along the side of the road trailing a piece of frayed rope… Will’s chest tightens and he whimpers before he can stop himself. People dump dogs out here all the time…

He rolls down his window, slowing the car to a crawl so that he can call to the stray.

‘Hello.’

The dog drops from a canter to a trot, and Will parks up just ahead. Gets out and waits near the bonnet, holding out his hand for the dog to sniff as it approaches. It’s wary; ears down, tail tucked between his legs… He’s been hit before. Hurt by humans…

‘Hey, hey… it’s okay…’ Will reaches for him; he’s so close, but then the dog bolts and he’s left alone again on the country road in the middle of the night.

Fuck.

It’s late, and he needs to sleep… Will squeezes the nape of his neck, trying to relieve some of the tension, hating how smooth and soft his skin is, and then scrubs at the stubble on his cheeks. Driving home, he grabs a collar, lead and fresh beef, and half an hour later, he’s back on the road, emergency lights on and sat on the edge of the boot, enticing the dog closer with the meat. It takes a while, but eventually his new pack member takes the food from his hand and licks him in return. An hour later, Will’s kneeling on his front porch, scrubbing fleas and dirt from his new pet’s coat, murmuring comfort and praise to the dog because he’s allowing the Omega to bath him.

When he’s done, and he’s just as soggy as his dog because the stray shook water all over him seven times and then pressed his sopping body up against him when he was scared of the hairdryer, Will changes into a t-shirt and pajama trousers, pouring himself a glass of whiskey even though he’s already so tired he feels drunk. Maybe the alcohol will help with the nightmares…

Sighing to himself, Will takes a sip and closes his eyes as he feels the last of the night’s tension finally, finally begin to slip away.

‘Winston, this is everybody,’ he says softly, speaking to the dog in the crate at his feet. ‘Everybody, this is Winston.’

The pack barks and whines a greeting, and Will hushes them so that they don’t scare their new brother. He sits back in the dining chair he’s brought out with him – the porch chairs are laced with frost – and Buster, his little terrier, jumps up to share Will’s sandwich with him.

I don’t need an Alpha, Will thinks, watching his pack sniff around the crate, getting used to Winston. He clenches his teeth against the stab in his gut and drinks more whiskey. I don’t need anyone.

***

Whispers fill his ears, slither inside his skull, tickling up and down his spine until he’s humming. The heater is on and Will can tell his cheeks are flushed. Are the dogs too hot? He glances over but they’re all quiet, curled in their beads around the fireplace, fast asleep.

He doesn’t remember waking up, only that he is… But...

Rolling his head to the side, his heart climbs up his throat when he sees the dead body of Elise Nichols next to him. Her eyes are scuffed marbles in her skull, her lips blue, skin waxy… As he rolls onto his side, reaching for her, she rises up, her head falling back, limbs hanging as her abdomen rips wide. Claws rake him from the inside, something dark and twisted fighting to get out from inside him, fighting to kill…

No!

Will jerks awake, dripping with sweat. He’s shaking, shivering like he’s cold but his skin on fire. He sits up, his teeth chattering, pathetic little mewling sounds bubbling up from his throat as he calls for an Alpha that isn’t there. For a mate he doesn’t have.

I’m fine; I don’t need anyone. I don’t need a mate. I don’t want a mate…

As much as he forces himself to think it, right now he can’t make himself believe it, and the cries get higher, more painful to hear. His shoulders cave in on themselves and he struggles to breathe. Will peels his soaked t-shirt from his body, hissing in pain when it scrapes over the tender skin on the back of his neck.

Alpha…

Half-falling into the bathroom, he grabs two of his softest towels. The damp cotton of his bed is scraping him, rubbing him raw. He lays one towel down on the wet mattress and pulls the other over him, tucking it up to his chin because that’s as close to a nest as he’ll allow himself right now… After all, the nightmares wasn’t that bad… Not like…

No. He’s not thinking about that.

Will curls up on his side, staring at the endless empty space where there is no dead body, where there is no body… No bodyNobody… No Alpha, no mate…

I’m alone…

Will bites his knuckles to keep from keening. Screws his eyes tight shut and waits for sleep to return. Waits for this feeling to go away. For the fear to subside…

Alpha…

***

The heating is never right in the Quantico buildings. It’s always either too hot or too cold. Today, it’s too hot.

Will dunks his face into a basin of cold water in the washroom, feeling it against his eyelids, up his nose… Blood seeps into him, filling him… He can never wash this feeling away…

He opens his mouth to scream, to drown the whimpers out of him but all that happens is air bubbles and then he’s upright, dabbing the wet from his cheeks with a paper towel and avoiding his reflection in the mirror because he knows what he’ll see – pallid, drawn, tired…

Jack strides in before Will’s even had a chance to recognize his scent. He suppresses a flinch, but barely; the Alpha is furious, and the air around him crackles with tension, stinging and slapping at Will’s skin like splinters.

‘What are you doing in here?’ the Alpha demands. Will sniffs at the tone and dries off his hands.

‘I enjoy the smell of urinal cake,’ he quips, ducking his head to avoid Jack’s intense eyes. The Alpha plants himself squarely in front of him and crosses his arms.

‘Me too. We need to talk.’ Another FBI officer walks in, already unzipping his fly, and Jack rounds on him. ‘Use the ladies’ room!’

Will braces himself back against the sink, trying not to laugh at the look of horror on the Beta’s face at being snarled at by such a big Alpha. He’ll probably never use this bathroom again.

‘Do you respect my judgment, Will?’ Jack asks, frowning at him as he paces back and forth. Will’s mouth twists unhappily but he nods.

‘Yes.’

‘Good,’ Jack says. ‘Because we will stand a better chance of catching this guy with you in the saddle.’

Will nods again, but he’s chewing his lip. He can’t lie to Jack; not to an Alpha.

‘Yeah, I’m in the saddle,’ he says shakily. ‘Just, um… confused which direction I’m pointing.’ Jack huffs and rolls his eyes at him, and Will’s dark shadow roars to the forefront of his mind, giving him the strength to explain it to the Alpha. ‘I don’t know this kind of psychopath. I’ve never read about him. I don’t even know if he’s a psychopath; he’s not insensitive – he’s not shallow.’

‘You know something about him,’ Jack insists, his eyes sparking red as passion deepens his voice. ‘Otherwise you wouldn’t have said “this is an apology”. What is he apologizing for?’

‘He… he couldn’t honor her!’ Will says, blurting out the thought that’s in his head, even if it doesn’t make sense. He paces back and forth, his neck aching with tension, his eyes itching as the gold band spreads from the outer ring of his irises. ‘He feels bad!’

‘Well feeling bad defeats the purpose of being a psychopath, doesn’t it?’ Jack retorts, and Will scoffs, two bright spots of color high on his cheekbones.

‘Yes, it does!’

‘THEN WHAT KIND OF CRAZY IS HE?!’ Jack bellows, and Will flinches back, hands on his hips but head bowed; a submissive, appeasing gesture designed to remind the Alpha that Will isn’t a threat; that he’s vulnerable to him, even as his veins pound with black anger.

‘He couldn’t show her he loved her,’ he says quietly. ‘So he put her corpse back where he killed it; whatever crazy that is.’

‘You think he loves these girls?’ Jack says, his face twisting with disgust at the idea. Will starts to pace again – he needs to move, needs to do something… Needs to get away from Jack… He rubs at the fresh pain throbbing in his forehead and his hand comes away wet with sweat. His hair is darkening with it and he can feel his shirt clinging to his armpits.

‘He loves one of them,’ he says, fighting the obscene urge to cry. ‘And, by association, yes, he has some form of love for the others.’

‘There was no semen, there was no saliva; Elise Nichols died a virgin,’ Jack snarls. ‘She stayed that way.’

‘That’s NOT how he’s loving them!’ Will yells, and he can feel his eyes flash bright gold as he challenges the Alpha standing over him. He’s backed up against the sinks again, trapped, his chest heaving and heart thundering behind his ribcage. ‘He wouldn’t DISRESPECT them that way!’ He can’t stop now that he’s started; the rage is pouring from him like dam waters. ‘He doesn’t want these girls to suffer; he kills them quickly and –’ He cuts off, swallows what he was going to say and instead says, ‘To his thinking, with mercy.’

Jack nods, taking it in. His eyes are deep red; he’s fighting every instinct that tells him to slam Will down on the ground and pin him, to prove that he is not to be challenged so easily… Will trembles, and waits for the blow.

‘Sensitive psychopath,’ the Alpha says, his nostrils flaring as he thinks. ‘Risked getting caught so he could tuck Elise Nichols back into bed.’

‘He has to take the next girl soon,’ Will says, the gold slowly shrinking from his eyes as fear replaces anger. ‘‘Cos he knows he’s gonna get caught… one way or the other.’

***

The lights of the forensic investigation lab are bright. Clinical. Glaring. Will looks away as Zeller, Price and Katz unzip Elise Nichols from the black body bag. He hugs his elbows, his skin aching from the residual violence in this room. So much death…

‘Okay… Tried her skin for prints, of course, nothing,’ Price says. ‘We did get a hand spread off her neck.’ He looks over at the monitor. None of them look at Will, but the question hangs in the air, unspoken, between them. Why are you here? Why won’t you look?

‘Report say anything about nails?’ Beverly asks. It’s Zeller who replies,

‘Fingernails were smudged when we took scrapings; scrapings were from her own palms when she scratched them – she never scratched him.’

 ‘Piece of metal is all we got,’ Katz says, voicing everyone’s frustration.

Will ignores the whispers stroking at his cheek, trying to get him to look, to look at the body…

 ‘We should be looking at plumbers, steamfitters, tool workers…’ he says, speaking to them without ever moving his eyes to them. Zeller and Price raise their eyebrows at each other. Nobody speaks.

Look

Heat flares in the base of his skull, sliding, molten, down his back. Will’s shadow purrs, twining between his legs like a cat and he sighs.

He can’t resist. He looks. Stares into the darkness of the autopsy hood, at the blackness covering Elise’s face and he knows… He knows what happened because he did it. The memory… It’s so strong. So real…

From very far away, Zeller’s voice reaches him.

‘Other injuries were probably, but not conclusively post-mortem, so not gored.’

‘She has lots of piercings that look like they were caused by deer antlers,’ Beverly says, and she scoffs at him. ‘I didn’t say the deer was responsible for putting them there.’

‘She was mounted on them,’ Will says, his grim voice cutting through the quiet. Everyone turns to him, but he’s not seeing them; he’s not seeing anything… ‘Like hooks… She may have been bled.’

‘Her liver was removed,’ Zeller says, returning to the job at hand. ‘See that? He took it out, and then… yep, he put it back in.’

‘Huh…’ Price squints at the body. ‘Why would he cut it out if he’s just gonna sew it back in again?’

My girl… I’m so sorry; I couldn’t honor you…

Will takes a breath, fighting nausea.

‘There’s something wrong with the meat,’ he says quietly, and Zeller looks at him in shock.

‘She has liver cancer,’ he confirms, his finger on one of the tumors. Katz and Price look at Will, too, their faces identical masks of puzzlement and awe.

Will nods, his shadow dancing in his eyes. He presses his lips together to keep from baring his teeth in a snarl. In a smile.

I know your design.

‘Yeah, he’s um… he’s eating them.’

***

Of all his patients, Franklyn Froideveaux is simultaneously the most insufferable and yet pathetically charming, and Hannibal Lecter does not give such high praise easily.

An overweight Beta with too much money and mild anxiety carefully twisted into a handful of delightful neuroses, he is Hannibal’s regular Monday and Thursday morning appointment. He is currently sobbing in the armchair facing Hannibal, reaching for him with a sweaty, pudgy hand as tears leak from his eyes.

‘Please…’

Hannibal allows his upper lip to curl into a faint sneer of disdain – Franklyn likes him mean, after all – and waits for a long moment before holding out his box of tissues. He makes no effort to lean forwards and Franklyn nearly slides out of the seat as he pitches forwards and plucks two from the offering.

‘Thank you,’ he snivels. He blows his nose and dabs at his cheeks. ‘I hate being this neurotic.’

Hannibal suppresses an eye roll. Instead, he says,

‘If you weren’t neurotic, Franklyn, you would be something much worse.’

Franklyn sobs again and then drops his dirty, crumpled up tissue onto the spotless glass table beside him. It takes every ounce of self-control not to narrow his eyes and bare his teeth; Hannibal merely feels his jaw tighten as he notes the defamation of his office.

‘Our brain is designed to experience anxiety in short bursts,’ he says, choosing to distract himself with writing a note in his book, instead of carving Franklyn’s face to pieces. ‘Not the prolonged duress your neuroses seem to enjoy. That’s why you feel as though a lion were on the verge of devouring you.’

Franklyn cries into his remaining tissue. It’s… tedious.

‘Franklyn,’ Hannibal says, and the Beta immediately looks up, desperation carved into his pudgy, sweaty face.

‘Yes?’

‘You have to convince yourself the lion is not in the room,’ Hannibal says, and Franklyn takes a deep, shaky breath., ready to argue.  

Hannibal feels his darkness swell as he sits forwards in his chair, and he allows the very edges of his irises to pulse red as he purrs,

‘When it is, I assure you; you will know.’

***

Sitting in Jack Crawford’s office on Friday morning, Will feels like he’s lost a fight to a bulldozer. He can’t get the violence out of his head; it swarms him, consumes him… He can’t eat, he barely sleeps… And now Jack has invited another Alpha to help with the case. Another strong Alpha; maybe even stronger than Jack.

‘Tell me; how many confessions?’ Dr Lecter asks, his European accent caressing each word before he speaks them.

‘Twelve dozen, last time I checked,’ Jack growls. He’s stood with Hannibal by the evidence board, his hands on his hips, Lecter with his hands in his trouser pockets. ‘None of them had any details. Until this morning,’ he adds, returning to his desk and sinking into his chair. ‘And then they all had details.’

Will tries not to stare at him, but Hannibal Lecter has such force of presence that he fills up the room, making it hard to breathe and impossible to force his eyes anywhere but on his sharp-cut suit jacket and expensive leather shoes. Even dressed casually, he looks impeccable. Will’s sensitive nose twitches, detecting a hint of cedarwood and cloves; a subtle cologne designed to enhance the Alpha’s natural scent, rather than cover it. He hates how the back of his neck is tingling, as though invisible fingers are brushing up and down the sensitive skin there, waiting for it to flush red in preparation for a bite…

‘Some genius in Duluth PD took a photograph of Elise Nichols’s body with his cell phone, shared it with his friends, and then Freddie Lounds posted it on TattleCrime.com,’ Jack says, and Will frowns.

Tasteless,’ he mutters. He hasn’t fully realised that he’s spoken aloud until Dr Lecter turns, scorching him with his full attention as he stares down at Will.

‘Do you have trouble with taste?’ Hannibal asks, the words flowing over and around him, making Will work hard to suppress a shiver.

He swallows, staring fixedly at a coffee stain on Jack’s desk, wishing to God he’d kept his mouth shut because he doesn’t want – he can’t have – another Alpha realize what he is. He can feel the tension thrumming through him and sets his jaw against any errant teeth chattering.

‘My thoughts are often - ’ He chews his tongue, trying to find the way to phrase it. ‘Not tasty.’

Dr Lecter examines the board again, reviewing the map where the girls have gone missing.

‘Nor mine,’ he agrees. ‘No effective barriers.’

‘Well, I build forts,’ Will says, covering the quiver in his throat with a swig of bitter black coffee. Jack never remembers to give him sugar.

‘Associations come quickly,’ Hannibal says, wandering across the room to take the seat beside him. He acts like he owns the place; a stalking jungle cat, all long limbs and sharp planes of his face, his eyes laying Will’s soul bare before him…

‘So do forts,’ Will growls, dumping the mug back on the desk. He really needs to get a grip. He’s taken a new dose of heat suppressants, and doused himself thoroughly in Beta spray. There’s no way Dr Lecter can know what he is… And why does he care so much, anyway?

Beside him, Hannibal clasps his hands over his knee. He eyes Will with great fascination, curious as to why Special Agent Jack Crawford of the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI wants a psychological profile of the man sat across from him, and why he is so concerned about him. Perhaps there is more to Will Graham than meets the eye?

He is certainly an intriguing character, Hannibal reflects. Will has acute empathic abilities that allow him to take on the thoughts and feelings of another person, completely, even someone whose point of view disturbs or sickens him. A fascinating gift, one that Hannibal is certain young Will feels is a curse.

He hides a smile behind his own cup of vile coffee. How he would enjoy delving into such a sensitive mind, exploring its depths and tasting the inevitable darkness waiting there. To take on the thoughts and feelings of so many killers… Will’s mind must indeed be a wicked and tormented place. Such potential, as well; to strengthen Will’s most vicious desires and see what unfolds…

And yet… This close to him, Hannibal’s sensitive sense of smell is assaulted by cheap aftershave – the sort that comes in a bottle with a ship on it – as well as sharp chemicals masquerading as…

He controls himself, stops his eyes from widening and his mouth from curving into a predatory smile as he realizes the truth about Will.

He is an Omega. Unbonded, as well; of that, Hannibal is certain. Why else would Will avert his eyes so fastidiously, except to hide the tell-tale glimmer of a gold rim, bright in its innocence?

Hannibal takes a slow, deep breath, categorizing and discarding the chemicals until he can place Will’s own scent, little more than a faint whisper of allure crushed beneath layers of artificial pheromones. The nape of Will’s neck will be pale and creamy, smooth over his vertebrae and unmarred by the bite mark of a claiming Alpha. Once bonded, Omegas develop a crest, ridged skin in varying shades of burgundy, depending on their maturity, heat cycle and strength.

Hannibal idly wonders why Will isn’t bonded – how can he stand to be alone when Omegas are built for an Alpha pairing – and then if he might get to see Will’s nape one day. To see such a vulnerable and private part of an Omega’s body…

He tries to look into Will’s face, to read the expression on his gentle features, but the younger man ducks his head and looks away. His movements are jerky, like a puppet on knotted strings. He is in pain from being in the killer’s mind; the connection has left his body with unseen bruises.

‘Not fond of eye contact, are you?’ he says softly. He can feel his own Alpha urges rearing up; to protect Will, to calm him, but Will is far too fascinating in his current state for Hannibal to give in to such baser instincts. Will is a litany of paradoxes: fear and courage, rage and calm, desire and disgust… At what?  His own biology? How interesting it could be to take Will’s mind and break it open; to allow him to experience his emotions and feelings without restraint. How powerful he could be…

‘Eyes are distracting,’ Will spits, fiddling with the paper file in front of him. ‘You don’t see enough, you see too much…’ He turns to scowl at the Alpha, and, as he speaks, he makes the mistake of looking into his eyes. ‘And it’s hard to focus when you’re thinking “oh, those whites are really white”, or “oh, he must have hepatitis” or “oh, is that a burst vein?”.’

He stills, struck by how very dark Dr Lecter’s eyes are. His pupils glint like obsidians, set against the dark brown of coffin dirt, ringed with the barest whisper of blood, and they sparkle when he smiles. Oh fuck, he thinks. He’s really handsome

Hannibal keeps the gaze constant, grinning at the blushing Omega. Traces the sensuous curves of Will’s face with his eyes, drinking in and committing the details to his memory. The furrowed brow in a constant state of concern; shadowed eyes begging for sleep and the unhappy turn of his mouth… Gentle nose, sharp jaw strengthened with a beard, soft lips and high cheekbones… He’s a work of art.

Heat floods him and Will has to swallow the lump in his throat.

‘So, yeah, I try to avoid eyes whenever possible,’ he finishes hoarsely. Turns back to the other Alpha for help. ‘Jack?

‘Yes,’ Jack says, returning when Will calls him. He sits down as Will leans forward, but Hannibal speaks again before Will can distract himself with the case.

‘I imagine what you see and learn touches everything else in your mind,’ he says, and his soft, earnest tone draws Will in again, coaxes him to look into his face.

Alpha…

‘Your values and decency are present, yet shocked at your associations. Appalled at your dreams.’ Hannibal tilts his head slightly closer, his lips curling into a tiny, conspiratorially smile as red warms his eyes again. ‘No forts in the bone arena of your skull for things you love.’

Yes…

Will frowns, his eyes threatening to flare gold as panic claws at his throat.

‘Whose profile are you working on?’ he whispers, and then he bares his teeth at Jack. ‘Whose profile is he working on?’

You’re a clever boy, Will, Hannibal thinks, sitting back and adjusting his jacket, repressing the urge to purr at how adorable the Omega is when he’s nervous.

‘I’m sorry, Will; observing is what we do,’ he says. ‘I can’t shut mine off anymore than you can shut yours off.’ He takes another sip of coffee. Hides an admiring smile when Will leans forwards and growls, with an extraordinary show of strength, at Jack.

‘Please, don’t psychoanalyze me. You won’t like me when I’m psychoanalyzed.’

‘Will…’ Jack says, trying to soothe him, but Will is already jerking to his feet, more than done with this discussion and desperate to be out of this room, away from Dr Lecter before a wave of fucking Omega pheromones come pouring out of him because there is just something about him that’s unsettling and getting under Will’s skin already…

‘Now, if you’ll excuse me,’ he snaps, grabbing his jacket and briefcase. ‘I have to go and teach a class... about psychoanalyzing.’

He misses the raised eyebrows shared between Jack and Dr Lecter in his haste to leave. Almost barrels into a field officer returning from another crime scene on his way down the corridor, and barely mumbles some sort of apology before stumbling into the elevators and seeking refuge inside the steel box.

Christ… What is it about Dr Lecter? He was in the room with him for barely ten minutes but he’s exhausted as though he’s spent hours running. His skin is tender; he has been stripped raw under such avid attention.

The elevator trundles down to the ground floor and Will escapes out into the cool afternoon air to cross the campus to the lecture theatres. He gets into the empty classroom early and, when he catches sight of his reflection in the glass of the door, he is surprised to see twin spots of color on his cheeks and a light sheen of sweat on his forehead. His eyes are burning bright gold around the edges and Will swears under his breath at how obvious his body is being.

He has some eye drops in his desk drawer, somewhere. Shoves aside pens and scraps of paper, wincing as he impales the tip of his finger on a staple, and then grabs up the little bottle.

He hasn’t had to use these drops in months

Will sighs and removes his glasses. With the ease of practice, he deposits two drops into each eye, huffing out the only sound of pain he’ll allow at how much it stings. However, when he checks his eyes again, the gold rim has darkened to little more than a coppery brown, undetectable once again.

Will shakes the bottle, testing how much is left. Not much. He’ll have to go easy on it, and try to stay away from Dr Lecter if his body is going to react in such a ridiculous way around the other man…

Perhaps it was a one-time thing. As Will hides the drops into the back of his drawer again, he tries to ignore the sinking feeling that he’s going to be using a lot of them over the next few weeks.

***

Death has a particular odor, Will thinks, stuffing his hands deep into the pockets of his ratty old jacket and huddling down against the sharp autumn wind and aggression lingering in the air.

The body is impaled on a stolen stag’s head, center stage in the middle of a field. Crows are pecking out chunks of dead flesh, cawing their indignance as Zeller drives them off with wild, flapping gestures.

Will frowns at the tableau, a nerve underneath his eye twitching because it just doesn’t feel right. The brutality, the callousness… It’s like smashing two jigsaw pieces together at the edges and hoping they’ll make one image.

It’s wrong.

Minneapolis Homicide have already made a statement and are calling the killer the Minnesota Shrike. Jimmy Price, birdwatching being one of his many hobbies, happily explains that it’s a type of hunting bird known for impaling its prey on twigs and thorns, ripping out their organs and storing them in a little ‘birdy pantry’ for eating later.

The dark current rises inside him and Will’s shadow swells with it. He follows the pattern in the air, the memory, the resonance, something smoky and rich and… elegant. He’s powerful. An apex predator; master of his kingdom. And yet…

‘He wanted her found this way,’ he purrs, tilting his head as he picks up on something else. Almost snorts a laugh. ‘It’s… petulant.’ He comes to stand over her, over her naked body, out there for everyone to see… ‘I almost feel like he’s mocking her…’ He shakes his head, more of an irritated flick because his neck is prickling, as though there are nails dragging their way down his scalp. Crouches by the girl’s face, enthralled by the blue tinged lips, mottled purple bruises and the single blade of grass on her eyelashes. ‘Or he’s mocking us.’

‘Where did all his love go?’ Jack murmurs, gazing mournfully at the dead Beta girl.

‘Whoever tucked Elise Nichols into bed didn’t paint this picture,’ Will mutters.  

‘He took her lungs.’ Zeller sounds choked, like he’s fighting down sickness. ‘Pretty sure she was alive when he took ‘em.’

Will shakes his head, his eyes prickling gold as he stares up at Jack. He has to make him understand. He has to.

‘Our cannibal loves women,’ he says. ‘He doesn’t wanna destroy them, he wants to consume them… to keep some part of them inside.’ He stands up and tries to shove at the heavy resonances sticking to his arms, to his gloves… to his mind. No forts in the bone arena of your skull… ‘This girl’s killer thought she was a pig.’

Jack frowns, considering this.

‘You think this was a copycat?’ he asks, sounding skeptical.

Will, dizzy and sweating from the sheer amount of pain around him, starts to walk away. He needs to sit… to be alone for a while. He needs to breathe.

‘The cannibal who killed Elise Nichols had a place to do it and no interest in…’ He shakes his head. ‘In field kabuki.’

You’re not the killer. You’re something else.

Will stops, throwing out the knowledge that his shadow whispers into his ear because, now that he’s seen what it’s not, he knows more about Elise Nichols’s killer.

‘He has a house, or two, or a cabin… Something with an antler room…’ He pauses, and it clicks. I understand… Fear tickles his heart, making it skip a beat. ‘He has a daughter. The same age as the other girls… Same hair color, same eye color, same height, same weight… She’s an only child…’ My girl… My beautiful girl… ‘She leaving home,’ he whispers, tears welling in his eyes because his chest hurts at the thought of not seeing her. ‘He can’t stand the thought of losing her.’ He huffs. ‘She’s his golden ticket.’

He turns to leave – his head is pounding and his scent is rising, thickening to a sweet musk. His Beta spray is either wearing off or it’s not enough to deal with the Omega pheromones pouring out of him because he’s distressed. He has to get out of here. Now.

‘What about the copycat?’ Jack asks, and Will pauses, sighing because he can’t just run away like he wants to, and he hates that he even wants to run away.

‘You know… an intelligent psychopath, particularly a sadist, is very hard to catch,’ he says, his voice shaking too much to control. ‘There's no traceable motive, there'll be no patterns. He may never kill this way again.’ He sees Jack open his mouth to respond and turns away, tossing his final, cutting, comments over his shoulder. ‘Have Dr Lecter draw up a psychological profile. You seemed very impressed with his opinion.’

He doesn’t wait to see the flash of guilt, possibly hurt, on the Alpha’s face. Just ducks beneath the yellow crime scene tape at the edge of the field and skids his way down the slope to where his car is parked. Dives into it and slams the door shut against the world.

Fuck…

What the fuck is he doing? This is why he teaches. Why he stays in a classroom.

Will stares at his reflection in the review mirror, watching the shadow battle with the gold in his eyes. His hands are shaking and his knuckles white from gripping the steering wheel. When he starts the car, he jumps at the sound of the engine catching.

He can’t help but feel like someone is following him. Like some thing has crawled inside his skull and nestled there, latched onto him and is slowly poisoning him… He drives back to his motel and, when he gets there, goes straight into the bathroom.

He strips out of his clothes, biting back a wince even though he’s alone because he refuses to show any sign of weakness. He’s exhausted but he’ll be lucky if he gets an hour or two between the nightmares. His body is battered and tender. He climbs stiffly into the tub and turns the dial on the shower to boiling in the hopes that he can burn away the feel of the murder.

One more day. He only has to spend one more day here, and then he can go home. To his dogs. To his normal life. To his own smells and his own bed… To the comfort of the familiar.

As the hot water thrashes his eyelids, Will’s calloused fingers ghost over the planes and ridges of his body. Water catches on his sharp shoulder bones, creating a fine mist around him. His brown curls are plastered to his skull, dripping over his forehead. He could melt into the shower and be washed away with the Beta spray and the memories of the stag’s head…

A raven stag watches him. It’s a beautiful thing, really. Majestic and dangerous. Sharp antlers and gleaming obsidian eyes. Feathers mingling with the fur of its neck… When it moves, they catch the light and warm it through with red. With blood.

It lowers its head, watching him. Ever waiting. Ever knowing.

Calculating

A series of knocks on his motel room door jerk him from sleep. Will blushes at the startled whimper he knows he made, and desperately tries to untangle himself from sweat-damp sheets. Rubs his eyes and stumbles his way through the dark room to tell whoever is disturbing to fuck off.

Only, when he unlocks the door and pulls it towards him, Will is bathed in the musk and cedarwood scent of Dr Lecter. He squints against the harsh grey of the overcast sky. Tries to ignore the way his stomach tightens into an uncomfortable knot at the presence of the other man. And then feels his mouth go dry as he realizes that he isn’t wearing his Beta spray. That he is, essentially, naked before the Alpha, smelling of sweet Omega musk…

Fuck.

Dr Lecter knows. Knows he’s an Omega, and, from the way Will just felt his eyes flash bright gold, also knows he’s unbonded.

Fuck.

‘Good morning, Will.’

Hannibal speaks with a deliberately brisk and cheerful tone, inwardly delighting at the warring emotions on the younger man’s face. Panic, certainly; Hannibal has surprised him, not allowing Will time to bathe in that hideous Beta spray and aftershave he is so fond of. His brown curls are sleep-tousled and unruly, strands clinging to his forehead as vestiges of nightmare sweats. Hannibal is curious what Will Graham has nightmares about.

However, despite the panic in his gold-blue eyes and the tell-tale fluttering of his pulse in his silky throat, Hannibal can also tell that Will is curious as to why he is here, perhaps even… grateful?

He smirks.

‘May I come in?’ he prompts, but to his surprise, Will stands his ground and continues to block the doorway, uncomfortably shifting from foot to foot in his cheap white t-shirt and thin boxers.

Will flicks his gaze past Hannibal’s shoulder, his heart thundering in his chest. If he looks at the Alpha’s eyes, he’ll never escape.

‘Where’s Crawford?’ he asks, more sharply than he meant to but… He’s nervous around Hannibal.

Hannibal gives a delicate shrug.

‘Deposed in court,’ he says, not sounding at all sorry about it. ‘The adventure will be yours and mine today.’ He allows his smile to touch his lips as he says this. He can see the spark in Will’s eyes, making the gold flare just a little brighter at the idea of spending time with an Alpha. That’s it, Will… Give in… He inclines his head, a little more pointedly this time, and repeats, ‘May I come in?’

Will holds out for a second longer, but he knows it would be rude to turn Dr Lecter away, and he has no good reason for that… Except that he’s an Alpha and you’re an unbonded Omega, he thinks to himself, but he can’t exactly use that as a justification.

So, he shrugs and steps back from the door, inclining his head in a nod of submission to Dr Lecter’s indomitable will.

Hannibal feels a rush of adrenaline when Will turns his back on him – a part of him trusts him already, even though he doesn’t know it – and he catches a brief look at the pink flush creeping up the nape of the Omega’s neck.

You like me, Will.

Hannibal narrows his eyes at the confirmation – it could be very useful, after all – and steps into the dingy little motel room. It is a sad place; peeling floral wallpaper and stained floorboards. He hides his grimace at Will walking around barefoot, and makes sure that he is the one to part the curtains because he doesn’t want Will touching anything in this room that he doesn’t have to.

‘I’m very particular about what I put into my body,’ he says, lacing the words with innuendo and receiving a broken breath from Will in response. ‘Which means I end up preparing most meals myself.’

He sits them at the little table before the window, the weak sunlight slanting through the gap in the net curtains and lighting up the Tupperware bowls of scrambled eggs, tomatoes and sausages he has made.

Will sits across from him, his stomach roiling at the fact that Dr Lecter – an Alpha – has made and delivered him breakfast… And is now sitting down with him to eat…

Is he… Courting him? Or is this normal behavior for… what? Friends? Colleagues? What is Dr Lecter playing at?

‘A little protein scramble to start the day,’ Hannibal says, handing Will’s breakfast over to him. Steam wafts into the chilly bedroom air, carrying with it the mingled scents of meat, eggs and the herbs complementing the dish. Despite his confusion, Will’s stomach rumbles its appreciation and his mouth waters in anticipation of the taste. He hasn’t eaten such lunchtime yesterday, when he bolted a miserable cheese sandwich on the way to the crime scene. He forgets to eat when he’s alone. He knows that many Alphas would use that as an excuse to bond with him, so that they can take care of him. Will isn’t sure if Hannibal is taking care of him because he’s an Omega, because he’s him or if Hannibal is just… socializing.

To save himself from his wandering thoughts, Will spears a chunk of sausage and begins to eat as he tips the rest of the food onto the plate Hannibal provided. The sausage melts onto his tongue, seasoned to perfection and grilled until it is firm and juicy. Will’s senses jump into overdrive – Omegas are, after all, hedonists – and he really tries to make himself chew it several times before swallowing.

‘Mmm, it’s delicious,’ he says, and, despite his lingering anger at Dr Lecter, he really does mean it. And, despite the fact that he does not like the man across from him, he goes feel grateful that someone – an Alpha – is taking care of him. ‘Thank you.’

He offers him a tiny smile, more a twist of his lips than anything nice, and then drops his eyes back to his plate.

In spite of the anger adding a smoking tone to Will’s scent, Hannibal experiences an odd tingle in the base of his spine at the sight of the offered smile. Careful not to push the Omega, sensing his nerves, he simply nods and keeps his expression and tone neutral.

‘My pleasure.’ And it is. To see Will’s lips curve upwards, even for a moment… It brings Hannibal pleasure.

Will, however, is obviously still smarting from Hannibal’s comments to him yesterday, and there is a wall of tension between them.

‘I would apologize for the analytical ambush yesterday,’ Hannibal says, lifting a forkful of fluffy scrambled eggs to his mouth. ‘But I know I will soon be apologizing again, and you'll tire of that eventually, so, I have to consider using apologies sparingly.’

Will stabs at a chunk of egg, hating the way his hands are shaking and his forehead is beading with sweat. Hannibal’s scent is creeping over the table, smothering him, enfolding him in a cocoon of safety and all he wants to do is stare at him and open himself up until Hannibal says those fateful words… You’re mine.

He glares at him between shoving food into his eager mouth and reaches for his coffee. It’s rich, aromatic and sweet – perfectly suited to an Omega’s tongue.

‘Just keep it professional,’ he snaps, ignoring the way his heart is hammering in his chest at standing up to an Alpha. God; the pheromones must be pouring off him. He can’t help but glance to the side, to the can of Beta spray and bottle of heat suppressants stood on his bedside table, nestled alongside his hunting knife and 9mm automatic. Just a typical Omega’s belongings…

‘Or we could socialize, like adults,’ Hannibal persists, allowing himself to gently rib Will, now that his shoulders have lowered somewhat. ‘God forbid we become… friendly.’

‘I don't find you that interesting,’ Will lies, staring at his drink so that the gold in his eyes can’t betray him. His heart skips a beat when Hannibal pauses for a moment, and he wonders what will happen to him when he pushes the Alpha too far.

Hannibal, however, is enjoying Will’s little show of defiance. It’s adorable, really. The boy is trying so hard to deny the effect Hannibal’s scent is having on him. Perhaps, next time, he should do a work-out before coming to see him, build up a sweat and then ride with him in the elevator. He would be curious to see Will’s reaction.

He dips his head and smirks at Will from beneath his lashes. Cannot resist one last bit of flirtation.

‘You will.’

There is no mistaking the way Will’s breath hitches in his throat, and he looks down at his food, taking his time chewing a mouthful of egg and sausage as Will fights to control the trembling in his hands.

‘Agent Crawford tells me you have a knack for the monsters,’ Hannibal continues, and Will abandons his food to lean his elbows on the table.

‘I don’t think the Shrike killed that girl in the field,’ he says, and Hannibal mimics him by also leaning forwards, offering him his undivided attention.

‘The devil is in the details,’ he agrees. ‘What didn’t your copycat do the girl in the field?’ Tell me, Will; how did I make the scene different for you? ‘What gave it away?’

‘Everything,’ Will whispers, and he scrubs his cheeks because he’s worried his face has just lit up with excitement – he can share this with Hannibal; the Alpha gets him. ‘It’s like he had to show me a negative so that I could see the positive.’

He sighs and rubs his face again. He’s too eager… Dr Lecter is a shrink, after all – if he seems too pleased by a murder then what does that make him?

‘That crime scene was practically gift-wrapped,’ he explains, and Hannibal returns his attention to his food so as not to risk any trace of emotion on his face. So you did like the gift… You’re welcome.

‘The mathematics of human behavior,’ he says. ‘All those ugly variables.’

Will pulls a face and tops up his coffee as the Alpha continues to speak.

‘Some bad math with this Shrike fellow, huh?’ Hannibal looks up at him, driving the words in deep. ‘Are you reconstructing his fantasies? What kind of problems does he have?’

Will sniffs bitterly and speaks before taking another gulp of his new favorite drink.

‘He has a few.’

Hannibal is quiet for a moment, satisfied to see the Omega savoring his coffee, and then picks up more food as he asks,

‘Ever have any problems, Will?’

Will rolls his eyes and grins, pointing to his own chest with a charming amount of sarcasm.

Me? No.’

‘Of course you don’t,’ Hannibal teases, and he grins back. ‘You and I are just alike.’ More than you’ll ever know. ‘Problem-free. Nothing about us to feel horrible about.’ He watches as Will eats another piece of sausage and then adds, ‘You know, Will, I think Uncle Jack sees you as a fragile little teacup. The finest china, used for only special guests.’

The words sting but Will fights a flinch, and Hannibal’s darkness purrs in self-congratulation when the Omega breaks into a full laugh, sitting back in his chair, arms to the side, legs open in an unconscious show of submission and accepted vulnerability – all his organs on display. Will’s face lights up at the idea of someone else, an Alpha no less, knowing that he loathes being treated with the typical gentle caution and over-protectiveness of most Alphas around Omegas, and Hannibal’s gut clenches at how very attractive Will is when he smiles, when he laughs. He has to pause for a moment whilst his heart finds its way back down to his ribcage. Makes a decision, then and there, to make Will smile for him more often.

‘How do you see me?’ Will asks, the question leaving his lips before he’s fully realized how dangerous the answer could be. He sees Dr Lecter grow still, holding his gaze, and something hangs there between them, heavy with possibility, fragile in its vulnerability.

Oh Will, Hannibal thinks, allowing the Omega to see a flicker of red in his own eyes. To see past his own fort to the darkness sheltered inside. You don’t want to be protected, do you? You want to be feared… You’re dangerous, like me…

‘The mongoose I want under the house when the snakes slither by,’ he says, and he watches as his compliment has the desired effect. Will’s eyes burn bright gold and his cheeks pinken in a delightful blush as his scent sharpens with the first hint of slick. Hannibal feels an ache in his groin and he has to fight down the purr threatening to rumble in his throat.

Will can’t breathe; he can smell his scent thickening with desire, a sweet, smoky musk, all the stronger for his open legs and thin boxers. But he can’t seem to make himself move, to close his thighs, and, to his abject horror, he’s sure his body has decided that now is the best time to remember how to make slick; the slippery, clear wetness adding a sugary aftertaste to his scent.   

Fuck.

Because Hannibal must be able to smell it, and a male Omega making slick without neck manipulation only means one thing; that Will really likes him, and that he’s more than willing to take his knot…

Fuck.  

But Hannibal, ever the gentleman, doesn’t comment on it. Instead, he merely smiles an apology at his own Alpha instincts and gestures with his knife and fork to Will’s plate.

‘Finish your breakfast.’

When he picks up his own knife and fork, Hannibal has to check that there is no tremble or sign that he is anything more than politely intrigued by the man within touching distance, despite the tightness coiling in his belly and the heat flooding at his chest.

So much potential…

It’s been years since he met anyone with a shadow to rival his own. Will could prove more entertaining yet, and he doesn’t appear to resent Hannibal giving him the odd instruction. He watches, satisfied, as the Omega returns to shoveling food in his mouth, making the odd, unconscious little sound of pleasure at the taste and texture of the food Hannibal has provided him with.

This could be dangerous, Hannibal thinks, taking a sip of his own coffee and adding the flavor to the meat residue on his tongue. I shall have to keep an eye on you, Will.

‘So, how often do you travel for work?’ he asks, looking to distract himself from his awkward thoughts. Will glances up from his plate and shrugs.

‘Um, when Jack asks for it,’ he says. ‘I don’t get involved in that many cases.’

‘Only the complex ones,’ Hannibal suggests, and Will nods.

‘Yeah… I’m actually just a teacher.’

‘Never just a teacher,’ Hannibal replies, grinning at him. ‘Educating young minds and broadening horizons.’

Will raises his eyebrows at him, scoffing at his description of his lectures and the blank expressions on many of his students’ faces.

‘Something like that,’ he mutters. Decides to ask his own questions. ‘Do you cook a lot?’

‘It’s one of my many passions,’ Hannibal replies, gathering up a tomato to accompany the forkful. ‘And you?’

‘Do I cook?’ Will snorts. ‘Er, no, not if I can help it.’ He thinks about it and then frowns. ‘Well, I cook for my dogs.’

‘You have dogs?’ Hannibal feigns interest, but seeing Will smile is worth it, and he forgets to eat for a few minutes as the Omega tells him about his collection of strays, gesturing with both hands, his face lit up and eyes sparkling as he describes their various personalities. Omegas are, after all, naturally nurturing.

‘- a lot of people dump them in the area,’ Will explains, reaching for the coffee again. Realizes it’s running low and hesitates. ‘Um, do you want…?’

‘Help yourself,’ Hannibal says, gesturing for him to take the rest. ‘And your latest…?’

‘Winston,’ Will says, and grins again. ‘Yeah, he’s settled in well. Really well, actually. I don’t think he’s been out on his own for long.’

‘What you do is very kind,’ Hannibal says. ‘Do you find new homes for them?’

Will grimaces, but it’s ruined with a smile that belies how he truly feels about being surrounded by dogs.

‘Um… Not as often as I should,’ he admits, and Hannibal huffs a laugh.

‘You must appreciate the company,’ he says. Let me in, Will… Tell me about yourself.

Will sits back in the chair again and shakes his head. His plate is nearly empty, Hannibal notes, and smiles to himself.

‘I like the quiet,’ the Omega says. ‘People are… complicated.’

‘So many emotions,’ Hannibal offers, and Will stills when he realizes that the Alpha is referring to his Omegan empathy. He frowns and stands up, turning away from Hannibal, who takes the opportunity to glance down and admire the curve of Will’s buttocks in the thin cotton.

‘I have to get ready,’ Will says, moving to the dresser. ‘I’ll be out in a minute.’

‘Take your time,’ Hannibal says, his eyes narrowing just slightly when he sees Will pick up the foul Beta spray from his bedside on his way into the little bathroom. He hears the lock click and, a moment later, the shower.

Safe from the Alpha, Will sinks onto the toilet seat and buries his face in his hands. What the fuck is he doing? He shouldn’t even be entertaining the idea of spending time with an Alpha, let alone someone like Dr Lecter…

He squirms and grimaces at the damp patch on the back of his boxers. God; it’s been years since he’s felt that, and it’s a hideous reminder of –

No. He’s not thinking about that.

Will jerks to his feet and rips his t-shirt over his head, kicking off his boxers and then climbing into the shower to get ready. He has a job to do.

He washes himself thoroughly in the hopes that his body will get the message and stop making anymore slick, and, as he does so, reasons that Hannibal is just being friendly, nothing overt, and nothing like typical Omega courting.

He’s not interested in you, he thinks, adding an extra layer of Beta spray to his skin and hair, just in case. And I’m not interested in him… So there’s nothing to worry aboutEverything’s fine.

***

Pulling up outside the site office, Will can’t help but scowl at the grinning Alpha beside him. Hannibal’s scent has filled the car, settling on his skin, in him, making the back of his neck itch and burn. It’s making him… irritable.

‘What are you smiling at?’ he barks, jerking the parking brake and cutting the engine. Hannibal continues to smile, as pleased as a child out to the zoo.

‘Peeking behind the curtain,’ he explains. ‘I’m just curious how the FBI goes about its business when it’s not kicking in doors.’

Will huffs and frowns out at the construction site before them. He’s warm, and the late autumn sun is slanting down into his eyes, giving him a headache.

‘You’re lucky we’re not doing house-to-house interviews,’ he replies. Then, to explain why they’re here, adds, ‘We found a little piece of metal in Elise Nichols’s clothes. A shred from a pipe threader.’

Hannibal looks out past the windscreen as well, schooling his expression to neutrality.

‘There must be hundreds of construction sites all over Minnesota,’ he says, and Will sighs.

‘Certain kind of metal, certain kind of pipe, certain kind of pipe coating…’ He shrugs. ‘So we’re checking all the construction sites that use that kind of pipe.’

Hannibal takes this in, and then leans closer, looking into Will’s face just to see the gold flare.

‘What are we looking for?’ he asks coyly, and Will’s breath hitches.

‘Um, at this stage, anything, really… But mostly… anything peculiar.’ He glances at the Alpha, ducks his eyes and then hurries out of the car into the safety of the fresh air. Watching him go, Hannibal allows a faint smirk to touch his lips when he smells fresh slick from the Omega.

Oh, Will… You can’t help it, can you?

Going through the construction company files is indeed tedious, but Hannibal is enjoying being close to Will, savoring the changes in his scent as his dark shadow lifts its head, tasting the air and then dismissing leads as the Omega flicks through files. He pauses when Will stops on a name, and his own darkness shifts in response to the sudden smokiness deepening Will’s musk.

He’s found something.

Will doesn’t know why, but the paper he’s holding… There’s something

‘Garrett Jacob Hobbs?’ he asks, directing the question to the annoying woman hovering around them.

‘He’s one of our pipe threaders,’ she replies. Sulkily adds, ‘Those are all resignation letters; plumbers’ union requires them whenever members finish a job.’ She glares at them and then hisses into the phone she’s holding, ‘I’ll call you back.’

Will nods, tilting his head at the way the paper whispers to him. He’s not sure… There’s just… Something… A scent, perhaps? A memory?

‘Er, does Mr Hobbs have a daughter?’ he asks. The sulky woman shrugs.

‘Might have.’

‘Eighteen or nineteen, wind-chafed skin, plain but… pretty? She’d have auburn hair, about this tall?’ He gestures to his jaw, and Hannibal glances at him. His darkness has its own scent; a rich, earthy smoke that blends beautifully with Will’s natural vanilla… I could breathe that in all day.

‘Maybe; I don’t know,’ the woman replies, being as unhelpful as possible. ‘I don’t keep company with these people.’

‘What is it about Garrett Jacob Hobbs you find so peculiar?’ Hannibal asks gently, prodding Will to examine his shadow, but the Omega merely shrugs.

‘He left a phone number, no address.’

‘And, therefore, he has something to hide?’

Will blows out his breath at Hannibal’s cynicism and turns to explain,

‘The others all left addresses. He also missed work for days at a time.’ Looks over at the unhelpful secretary again. ‘Do you have an address for Mr Hobbs?’

You’ve found him, Will, Hannibal thinks, keeping his eyes lowered on the file in his hand because he can feel them pulse red with delight at Will’s talent. What will you do if he’s waiting for you? If he knows you’re coming for him?

***

The chirrup of birds fills the air. It’s warm; the sun has burned off the last of the morning’s chill and left a fresh day in its place. Now, as the afternoon wears away, there is a ripple of anticipation in the air. Hannibal savors it, revels in the set of Will’s shoulders, the shadow in his eyes and the knife-sharp energy filling him with purpose.

I’m going to watch you kill.

Will cuts the engine and sits for a moment, staring up at the house of Garrett Jacob Hobbs. The shadow in his chest is restless, pacing and growling, anticipating blood.

He’s in the right place.

A twinge in his forehead reminds him that he needs to take another heat suppressant. It’s a balancing act – stay on the pills for too long and he’ll likely die of liver failure from a toxic buildup of hormones in his system. Come off the pills and not only will he suffer with migraines and hallucinations as he detoxes, but he’ll go into heat, strong and fast and utterly uncontrollable. If he isn’t with an Alpha during it, he knows there’s a good chance he won’t survive. And if he is – because, let’s face it, any Alpha within a fifty-mile radius will be able to sense him if he gets to that point and they’ll come running – then he’ll emerge afterwards, bonded and owned. No longer free to be himself. To have a job or a life or…

His hands tremble as he pops two pills from the bottle. He doesn’t even think about the dose; just knocks them back and swallows them dry.

Refuses to look at Hannibal, who has raised an eyebrow at him. He kicks the car door open and heads up the path.

I’m in charge of my own life.

Left behind, Hannibal glances down at the offending bottle of heat suppressants. He’s going to have to get rid of them.

A problem for another day. Right now, he’s curious to see how Will fares against Garrett Jacob Hobbs. This house is owned by an Alpha – he can smell it. He’s curious to know whose shadow-self is stronger – Garrett’s or Will’s.

Which of them is going to die?

As Will nears the door, Hannibal hears scrambling footsteps. It opens and Hobbs flings his dying wife out of the house, distracting Will for long enough that he can withdraw back inside.

The woman’s throat has been cut; a gaping slit pulsing blood from the severed artery. She is already dead; her body just needs to realize it. Hannibal stays back, watching as Will bloodies his hands as he tries to hold the flesh together, desperate to save her even as the light fades from her eyes.

No!

Will’s darkness roars up, overwhelming him with its fury. Venom makes him bare his teeth and Hannibal quivers with excitement as the Omega draws his gun and smashes open the door.

That’s it, Will… Hunt him down… Kill him

‘Garrett Jacob Hobbs! FBI!’

Will keeps the gun up, acid pounding through his veins as he follows the Alpha’s rut-rich scent to the kitchen. Hears desperate whimpers and a growl rumbles in his throat.

Outside, Hannibal pauses to consider dead Mrs Hobbs. There is no elegance in her death; no meaning, just a scared Alpha with no care for his mate.

Will enters the kitchen and sees Garrett with his daughter in his arms. He’s behind her, holding a knife to her throat, ready to take her life if it will save his own. He points his gun at Garrett’s head in warning. His eyes flash gold and he can feel his shadow pulling his finger on the trigger.

Kill him… Do it now…

Protocol says he gives him a chance. He has to disable him… He can’t kill unless a life is in danger…

And then Hobbs drags the blade across his daughter’s creamy white throat and her skin splits, spraying gouts of blood across the room as she gasps and chokes.

I can kill you now.

He’s firing before he’s even finished the thought. He’s not himself, not really. He’s nothing. No one… Just darkness…

Garrett takes a shot to the shoulder and that’s enough to knock him back a step, but the Alpha is in full rut, his eyes blazing red, and he goes for his daughter again even as she falls to the ground. And Will’s killing him, pumping round after round after round into his chest, coming after him until the clip is empty and Garrett’s chest and abdomen are riddled with bullets.

Hannibal wets his lips as the taste of copper fills the air. Hears gunshots and steps into the doorway to see Hobbs in the corner of the kitchen.

‘See?

The Alpha’s sibilant whisper is the last thing he says, and Hannibal watches as his head drops. He’s dead. Killed by an Omega. A powerful and unique Omega.

But Will is distressed. Shaking with the effort of not crying. Beneath the choking Beta spray. Hannibal can smell the waves of Omega pheromones coming from him, laced with gunpowder and blood. He’s crouched on the floor, cradling the split neck of Hobbs’s daughter.

Hannibal considers them for a moment. He cares nothing for the girl, but there is something desperate, pleading, in the way that Will is trying to save her. The Omega is not yet ready to know himself, to accept that he can take great satisfaction from taking a life, irrespective of saving a life.

I shall have to convince you, Will.

Hannibal approaches and drops to his knees, heedless of the blood soaking into his tailored trousers. He pushes Will’s hands away and cups the girl’s neck to stem the flow.

He doesn’t speak. He doesn’t have to. He radiates a sense of calm authority and Will responds to it. Submits to it. Thanks him for it.

Hannibal’s darkness reaches out for Will’s, tenderly caressing it in the broken silence between them. Will is a fledgling monster, curled between the legs of a mighty dragon, and Hannibal locks eyes with the Omega, giving him a small nod, swallowing when it is returned.

You are mine, Will, he thinks. You just don’t know it, yet.

***

After giving his statement and going back to his hotel room to change, Will returns to the hospital. He needs to see her… He needs to see… He just needs to know.

Abigail Hobbs, the daughter of the man he killed. He’s responsible for her, now.

Born in blood.

His heart is racing. His breath comes in short bursts. His body hums as though there’s a live wire beneath his skin. He sees the number; the open doorway… Hears the blip of a steady heart on the machine.

And then, cutting through the tang of antiseptic, of metallic blood and Abigail’s Beta scent, is the smell of cedarwood and musk. It fills the room, warming it. Will stops at the end of the bed, releasing a long, slow breath when he sees him. His Alpha…

Oh

Hannibal is asleep in the chair beside Abigail, holding her hand. She’s unconscious, on a ventilator, her heartbeat slow and steady. She can’t feel it, but the message – I’m here, I won’t leave you. I’ll protect you – is clear.

I want him to hold me that way

Will can feel his heart constrict and he sinks into the chair on the other side of the bed because he knows… It’s not for Abigail… Hannibal’s protecting her for Will.

A lump forms in his throat and Will struggles to swallow at what this means… At what this might mean…

You… like me…?

He looks over at the sleeping Alpha, his lips and fingers tingling. Hannibal’s face, normally so guarded, is soft and vulnerable. An odd mixture of sharp angles and thin lips, he shouldn’t be so handsome, but he’s breathtaking. His sandy hair falls over his forehead and Will wonders if it feels as soft as it looks…

How would it feel to run his fingers through it? To wrap his hands in it and hold tight as Hannibal’s body moves on top of him, holding him to a broad chest and…

His breath catches and he feels a trickle of slick dampen his boxers. Heat crawls up his spine, settling, iron hot, at the nape of his neck.

Fuck.

I like you, too, Dr Lecter…

***